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Budget avoids higher tax rate

The city's property tax rate would stay the same under City Manager Gerald Seeber's proposed 1995-96 budget.

It would be the seventh consecutive year without an increase.

But that lack of inflation has a price. To balance the $7.9-million general fund budget, the city will have to dip heavily into reserve funds.

The problem is, the city doesn't expect to receive enough from property taxes and other revenue sources next year to pay all its bills. To make up for the shortfall, Seeber has proposed taking $851,090 out of reserves. That withdrawal makes up 10.7 percent of the budgeted spending for next year and would reduce the city's general fund reserves by nearly 30 percent.

If the city made up the deficit by increasing property taxes, it would have to boost the tax rate nearly 42 percent, from the current 5.25 mills to 7.44 mills. A mill equals $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in appraised, taxable property value.

Seeber said in a budget memo he doesn't expect to spend all of the budgeted $851,090 reserve money. In four of the past five years the city has budgeted to use reserves but ended up using less than 1 percent of what was planned.

The current budget year is the exception. The 1994-95 budget called for using $603,540 from reserves to make ends meet, but Seeber estimated half of that would be spent.

The city's 1995-96 budget planning has been helped by a slight increase in city property values, bringing an estimated $15,000 more in revenue. In past years the city's tax base actually declined, meaning the same tax rate brought less money into city coffers because the property was worth less.

Seeber stresses in the memo that his proposed budget already has been pared down. No layoffs are planned, but neither is new hiring.

To keep down costs, Seeber also eliminated some budget items requested by department heads:

Replacing a radio console in the police department that has been heavily damaged by lightning strikes and is not easily repaired.

Buying $20,000 in computer-aided dispatch software for the police department. "The existing console will eventually fail and the city may be faced with an emergency replacement," Seeber wrote, adding that the software would help dispatchers keep better track of officers.

Three new firefighter-paramedics requested by Fire Chief Harold Burns. The new paramedics would have made it possible to cut down on overtime in the understaffed fire department and to provide a higher level of emergency medical service to residents. The City Council said earlier this year that it favored adding the new paramedics, but Seeber said it was necessary to delete them from the budget to keep costs down.

Additional staff requested to help keep the city's pool open longer. The parks and recreation director asked for extra staff because a new dome on the pool will allow it to be used year-round. "While the pool will remain open more hours than it is today, it will not be open as many hours as the pool supervisor and the parks and recreation director might have preferred," Seeber wrote.

Renewal and replacement accounts. In good financial years the city has put money aside to start saving for replacement of expensive equipment. That way the entire cost would not have to be borne in the year it is replaced. Seeber deleted all those proposed by the fire chief and the public works director.

There may be other ways to cut expenses. One would include having the county perform some city services. Some possibilities include the city's library, recreation services and library services.

"Some reductions in operating expense can occur by consolidation with the County because of certain economies of scale associated with a larger operation," Seeber wrote. "There are trade-offs however, which the city must be willing to accept with such consolidation efforts."

Seeber asked the council to decide if it wants to consider consolidation of any departments with the county. The city has already begun looking into consolidating its library with the county system.